The Penalty Box: A Homework Encourager

When teachers first hear the term “Penalty Box” they are taken back. Are we being cruel to our students? Are you allowed to do that? What do parents think? Let me promise you that we do not harm students nor do we do illegal actions against students. But, let’s start with the basics.

What is a penalty box? Taken from the game of hockey, a penalty box is an area that we use to contain students during CTE time who do not do their math homework. For Geometry in Construction, it is an 8’ x 8’ framed in area (see photo) that is next to the build site. In AMPED it is a table in the shop area (or in the classroom located next to the shop). Students must remain in the “box” during the class. In both cases, it must be in sight of the teachers for supervision purposes.

How do students get assigned to the box? Students are assigned to the box if they do not complete 70% of the math homework due (with work shown). The homework is checked, as the students enter class, by both teachers.   Teachers are looking for work shown on a minimum of 70% of the assignment. If a student’s homework is not complete to the 70% level, the CTE teacher assigns the student to the “box” during the CTE class.

What makes the penalty box work? We strive to begin the Penalty Box as soon as there is a “fun” project in the CTE side of the class. For AMPED it is the production of a personal project (t-shirt or small wood working project). In GIC, it is when we first roll out to start work on the house. We know it is vital that we get to the “fun” project as early in the school year as possible.

What are the expectations of students in the penalty box? When a student is in the penalty box, they are to work on the missing assignment or partial missing assignment. Students in the box can work together but must show work (in hopes of slowing the copying of homework). Once students complete the current assignment, they are to work on the next (future assignment). The curriculum spirals in both AMPED and GIC and therefore students can work on the “old stuff” in the next assignment. The CTE teacher will come by the box several times to check on each student’s progress.

What grades do the penalty box students get? In our classes, homework completion grades are 100%, 90%, 80%, 70%, or 0%. No grades are given for less than 70% completion. So, if a student enters the classroom with half the homework done, he/she will receive a 0%, which is the same as a student who did none of the homework. However, that grade is changed to a 70% at the end of class if the student completes the missing work while in the penalty box. Students receive a 0% for the CTE portion of class until they make up the time in the shop/build site. The make up time is outside of school and it is supervised by the math teacher or the CTE teacher. It is expected that the math teacher supervise their half of the CTE make up time.

Why is it the CTE teacher’s job to supervise the penalty box? The math teacher is already viewed by students as the “bad” teacher just because of the subject he/she teaches.   So, to help balance this student perception, the CTE teacher takes the role of the enforcer. However, to balance the CTE teacher’s additional workload, the math teacher should supervise the afterschool CTE make up time.

What do parents think about the penalty box? Almost without fail, they support the penalty box, especially when it is explained to them. There are times that the parent only hears, “I have been put in the penalty box and I never get to go to the shop. The teachers just don’t like me”.   However, once the parent hears the whole story of why the student is in the penalty box (lack of homework), they almost always (99%) support the action. So, what if the parents don’t support the action, then the parent can opt them out of the penalty box. The few times when that has occurred, the student was not successful in class because he/she knew there were no consequences for their lack of effort.

What are the outcomes of the penalty box? At the beginning of the year, students do not believe we would do such a thing. It is not uncommon when the penalty box first rolls out to have 40% of the class in it. However, with each passing day, the penalty box numbers drop. Students will never lose face by admitting the penalty box is bad. However, by the beginning of quarter 2, we are down to 20% in the box. By quarter 3, there are only 2-4 students in the box on any given day. Is it successful? We believe so. We do not save all students but we do improve the passing rate of many students. We typically have a 90% homework completion grade in math. As teachers, we know if the students will just do the homework, there is a significant increase in test scores and success in the class.


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